WEIRDLAND: Double Indemnity on Top 10 Films Noirs

Friday, November 29, 2013

Double Indemnity on Top 10 Films Noirs

Cameron Crowe called Double Indemnity "flawless film-making". Woody Allen declared it "the greatest movie ever made". Even if you can't go along with that, there can be no disputing that it is the finest film noir of all time, though it was made in 1944, before the term film noir was even coined.

Adapting James M Cain's 1935 novella about a straight-arrow insurance salesman tempted into murder by a duplicitous housewife, genre-hopping director Billy Wilder recruited Raymond Chandler as co-writer. Chandler, said Wilder, "was a mess, but he could write a beautiful sentence". Noir's visual style, which had its roots in German expressionism, was forged here, though Wilder insisted that he was going for a "newsreel" effect. "We had to be realistic," he said. "You had to believe the situation and the characters, or all was lost."

But the ace in the hole is Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson, a vision of amorality in a "honey of an anklet" and a platinum wig. She can lower her sunglasses and make it look like the last word in predatory desire. And she's not just a vamp: she's a psychopath. There are few shots in cinema as bone-chilling as the closeup on Stanwyck's face as Neff dispatches Phyllis's husband in the back seat of a car. Miklós Rózsa's fretful strings tell us throughout the picture: beware. Stanwyck had been reluctant to take the role, confessing: "I was a little frightened of it." Wilder asked whether she was an actress or a mouse. When she plumped for the former, he shot back: "Then take the part." Source:

Stanwyck made three of her very best films opposite Fred MacMurray: Remember the Night, Double Indemnity, and There’s Always Tomorrow. Her fourth film with MacMurray, a 3-D western called The Moonlighter (1953), has a poor reputation, but it boasts a smart script by Niven Busch, who provided the source material for The Furies, and an effectively dramatic opening.

She stops the car and honks the horn, which is Walter’s cue to strangle the husband. As he does this, Wilder gives Stanwyck a justly famous close-up to show how Phyllis reacts. At first her mouth is open, excitedly, but then it closes again, tightly. In her eyes, there’s a nearly unreadable look. It is at once childlike and sad, and there’s a bit of self-recognition and a bit of satisfaction—and a bit of disappointment that the whole job is over, for she had so enjoyed the planning. “What comes next?” she seems to think, with the melancholy of a serial killer who knows that they can only really get off every once in a great while. There’s even some joy in her face. So many things are blended together in this close-up that it has the visual effect of a full orchestra playing at full blast—probably something by Mahler. Stanwyck takes you through every gradation of what a sociopath like Phyllis feels. -"Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman" (2012) by Dan Callahan

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